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EPA turned a blind eye to carcinogen in drinking water

February 1, 2021

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Aimee Dewing,

North Carolina Environmental Health and Justice Groups File Legal Challenge to Flawed EPA Risk Evaluation on 1,4 Dioxane

Hundreds of Thousands of North Carolina Residents Are At Risk of Cancer 

From 1,4-Dioxane Contamination of Drinking Water

OAKLAND, CA – Today, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and six public health and environmental justice groups in Eastern North Carolina filed a petition seeking judicial review of the inadequate and negligent risk evaluation of 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen found in drinking water and consumer products, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The petitioners are Advance Carolina, Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, Haw River Assembly and Toxic Free NC

The evaluation was finalized on January 8, 2021, days before the Biden Administration took office, and is based on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s principal law for reducing the risks of unsafe chemicals. The petition was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

The Biden Administration played no part in the flawed risk evaluation and petitioners look forward to working with the new EPA leadership to redo the evaluation so it fully protects public health.   

Petitioners are deeply concerned about widespread 1,4-dioxane contamination of the Cape Fear and Haw Rivers and other water bodies which provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents. Drinking water supplies in the state have among the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane in the US. Many North Carolina communities are exposed to amounts of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water that EPA and other authorities deem an unacceptable cancer risk.   

Despite this threat to public health, EPA’s risk evaluation failed to address drinking water contaminated with 1,4-dioxane based on the legally questionable claim that this contributor to cancer risk is not within the scope of its responsibilities under TSCA.  This gap in the evaluation deprives the public of a full understanding of the scope and severity of drinking water contamination in North Carolina and other impacted states and the need for EPA and states to take expeditious action to protect public health.  

1,4-dioxane is also a contaminant in household cleaning and personal care products which most Americans use every day. The Trump EPA initially refused to include these products in its evaluation. However, it reversed course in late 2020 after heavy lobbying from industry groups seeking EPA action under TSCA in order to block (or preempt) states from regulating 1,4-dioxane in consumer products.   

EPA obliged and rushed out a flawed and incomplete assessment finding that cleaning and personal products containing 1,4-dioxane do not present an unreasonable cancer risk to US consumers

Petitioners will demonstrate in the Ninth Circuit that this finding is scientifically and legally unsupportable and greatly understates real-world exposure to 1,4-dioxane in consumer products. The right conclusion is that these products do in fact present an unreasonable risk of cancer and that EPA should act expeditiously under TSCA to protect consumers.  

Petitioners offered the below quotes:

“Trump’s EPA played eleventh hour politics with our health. They ignored the cancer risk we face everyday simply drinking contaminated water and caring for our families. If we can’t rely on our regulators to take health and environmental threats seriously, then why do they even exist? While we hope the incoming administration upholds its commitment to environmental justice, we also have to take this challenge to the U.S. Court of Appeals because the stakes are just too high,” said Emily Donovan, Co-Founder of Clean Cape Fear.

“As someone who was born and raised in this state, and as a mom building my family here, it is extremely daunting to continuously hear of contamination issues in my community, such as with PFAS and now 1, 4 Dioxane. As much as I try to stay informed of environmental health issues, I feel like I’ll never fully know what my family and I have been or are being exposed to. Even more upsetting is that there are so many that don’t have a clue as to what they are exposed to – this information just is not accessible to everyone,” said Andrea Braswell, PMP, Policy Program Manager, Center for Environmental Health.

“As a North Carolina native, the exposure to this chemical, and many others, is all too familiar. Exposing vulnerable communities to this toxic man-made chemical is beyond egregious, especially in the midst of the public health crisis that already disproportionately impacts BIPOC and low wealth communities. Historically, these very same communities have shouldered the brunt of cumulative impact through numerous environmental harms at the hands of large corporations, such as Chemours, Duke and others. It is imperative that we listen to the science, and require the EPA to strongly consider the risks and take action accordingly to protect consumers.” said Sanja Whittington, Executive Director of Democracy Green.

“In this Nation, countless BIPOC and low-wealth communities are faced daily with contaminated environments in their own backyards. Black Americans, specifically, face a 54% higher health burden than the overall population. It is a horrifying reality that even in household cleaning products, communities can’t escape environmental poisoning.

We are in this fight against 1,4 Dioxane because it is the moral thing to do, and we know historically people-of-color have seen 95% of their claims against polluters denied by the EPA. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own home, the right to a healthy environment and access to poison-free products.” said La’Meshia Whittington, Deputy Director, Advance Carolina.

“One in five North Carolinians get their drinking water from the Cape Fear River Basin. The watershed also has some of the highest levels of 1-4 dioxane in the entire country. 1-4 dioxane represents a clear and present danger to millions of residents of the Cape Fear Basin and we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing as industrial pollutants poison our loved ones.” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch.

“Clean water is not a partisan issue or an environmental issue, it is a basic human right that every American is entitled to. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether the water they pour their children will give them cancer, and we shouldn’t have to be able to afford expensive filtration systems to do right by our families. Yet, in North Carolina we are dealing with one water contamination issue after another. Our government has a responsibility to protect our water, our health and our communities. Through this lawsuit, we intend to hold our government accountable and make sure the good of the people is prioritized above all else.” said Dr. Lior Vered, Policy Advocate for Toxic Free North Carolina.